The Independent Market Observer

Losing the COVID 19

Posted by Brad McMillan, CFA®, CFP®

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This entry was posted on May 27, 2021 3:03:14 PM

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COVIDLooking at the title, you could be forgiven for thinking I have finally reached that point in life where I start referring to things with “the”—"The Google,” for example. In fact, I am looking back to college, referencing a phenomenon known as the freshman 15: the 15 pounds you gained when you started eating at the dining hall. The pandemic has had the same effect on me, but even worse. Of course, being an overachiever, I wasn’t going to settle for just 19 pounds.

Taking the Long Road

Now I am on the long road back. And I mean literally on the long road. I am walking on my treadmill desk at the office, riding on the Peloton bike several days a week, and attempting to run again. I am putting in the time and seeing some results. I’m not there yet, of course, but at least I’m making progress. On most days.

One of the maddening things about trying to lose weight is the inconsistency of the results. Over the past two days, according to the scale, I have put on 1.5 pounds, despite good exercise and good food discipline. I don’t want to think it’s real, but there it is on the scale. It is hard to stay motivated and keep doing the right things when the results are so inconsistent—and so unrewarding. Even if I am making progress in the long term (and I am), the short term can be tough in the face of bad results.

Fortunately, as an investor, I am used to maddeningly inconsistent results that don’t reward me in the short term for doing the right thing. In fact, I see this inconsistency all the time. Bad economic news? Stocks go up! Great earnings? Stocks go down! And so forth. This is my professional life, as well as my current personal life.

Applying Professional Life Lessons

So, what to do? I decided to apply some of my professional life lessons. I can’t control my weight, especially on a day-to-day basis. But I can control the inputs that lead to that weight. At work, I look at regular contributions to my portfolio. If they are positive, it will go up over time. I look at regularly assessing and rebalancing my asset allocations. If I do that, over time, I will end up buying low and selling high. And I don’t look at my portfolio balance every day, because it does tend to bounce around. Over time, though, I know it works. So why not apply that same process to the COVID 19?

That is what I am doing now. I am watching my deposits in the "fat bank." By tracking both food (the Lose It! app) and exercise (Peloton and the Apple Watch), I can track, on a daily basis, the deposits (or, in this case, withdrawals) that I am making at the fat bank.

Setting Goals

So far, so good. But I have been down this road before. The challenge is always how to reconcile that with the varying weight numbers. And this time I am doing something different, something in line with what I do at work. I am setting a target for those withdrawals, which has nothing to do with my weight. I am taking it from a weight loss project to an eating and exercise project, from something that bounces around to something I can control directly. And that direct control preserves the link between motivation and results.

My target is to withdraw 100,000 calories from the fat bank. At 3,500 calories per pound, that should mean just under 30 pounds of weight loss. But it probably won’t. As I bike and run, I hope to add muscle as well as lose fat, so the weight loss will probably be less. That’s okay, though, because when I hit that goal, I won’t care about my weight. When I hit that goal, I will be in much better shape and, inevitably, be much thinner. That is what matters. By using this metric, I have taken my motivation from a false goal that varies to a real goal I can control.

So far, after 31 days, I am 17.2 percent of the way to my goal. I know, every day, how much progress I have made—and why. I have also lost weight, which is nice, but that is not what I am focusing on. The goal is to control my eating and exercise.

We Now Return to Our Regular Program

Let’s finish up by tying this back to investing. If your objective is to get rich in the market, you may well be disappointed, as markets are not under our control. You may get some success, as you might with a fad diet. But longer term? That success tends to fade.

Instead, if you take a disciplined approach over time, with regular deposits and rebalancing, you will ultimately get to your goals. Control your process, and control your results.

I still have a ways to go (82.8 percent left!) on the 100K calorie project. I have even longer (likely 20 years or so) on the retirement project. But with both, I know that if I stick with the program, control what I can, and keep my eyes on the goals, I will get there. It will just take some time.

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